A Thomas Crapper Original

I’m not sure if the power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely, as Louisa May Alcott once opined, but I know some of the simplest things make me happy. Like the hand painted picture of three little pink piggys trying to nose their way out the barn door that I have hanging in my kitchen. Matching towels and pretty commodes. It may just be my way of making up for the chamber pots and outdoor privies suffered in my youth in the unplumbed south. This was originally posted exactly 10 years ago. I still like it. Hope you do too.

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Over the years while traveling, I taught my daughters the cardinal traveler’s rule, “you go” when you have the chance.” I was reminded of that rule often during our recent road trip. In fact, that rule led me to a discovery of sorts that now makes me almost want to re-do my bathroom at home.

We were in Seattle and had decided to walk from our hotel to the waterfront and downtown, taking public transportation as and when needed. They have a great public transport system and even offer free bus rides to everyone within a designated area of old downtown, and a transfer pass can get you in and out within a certain period for $1.50 or $1.75, depending on whether it’s “peak rush hour” or not. Our onfoot foray was to turn into a daylong adventure, and I was often reminded of my traveler’s rule.

Since we’d read drastically conflicting reviews on the underground tour of Seattle, we were resting our tootsies sitting on a bench in Pioneer Square and trying to decide if the underground tour of Seattle was worth the ticket price of $12 for seniors. Anyone who knows me also knows my seriously weird, some might say “warped,” sense of history. The more ridiculous or seedier it is the better I like it, and my head is full of useless facts about various things. I was very curious to learn more about the seedier side of the old underground city destroyed by the fire in 1889 that gave Pioneer Square the reputation that eventually gave rise to the expression “skid row.”

We more or less had decided to give it a go and learned that there would be no sitting down for this tour. Turns out we’d be on our feet for a full hour and a half or more–depending on the verbosity of our actor guide–so we decided we weren’t quite up to it after walking all those blocks already. Since we were already inside and nobody seemed to be kicking us out, we opted to have a look around first in the attached Rogue’s Museum and antique shop instead.

Soon I noticed the sign that pointed to “Women’s” and automatically turned to go in since all I’d seen so far were signs in every storefront saying “wash rooms are for customers only.”

The “facilities” were so pretty that I just had to take a picture to remember. Even the wash basin and the matching backsplash were pretty.

Back outside in the museum, one of the first exhibits I saw was either “the” or “an” original toilet designed by Thomas Crapper. While propriety or a certain sense of decorum prevented me from photographing the interior of the toilet above, this one was fair game.

Aren’t they pretty? I found you can order one for your own bathroom from the U.K. at a ballpoint figure of $1,000 American dollars. Guess I’ll be keeping our old crapper toilet instead. By the way, in doing all the research about Thomas Crapper, I found out that he really wasn’t the “inventor” of the modern flush toilet after all. I just may flush out this story more fully in a future post, but for now I hope you like the pretty toilets.

Book of Mormon: hell of a play in a hell of a town

When you get sidetracked from journal keeping (or blogging, if you prefer) for more than a few days, I’ve found it gets really easy to lose track of what you were going to write next. If you’re anything like me, however, while your fingers are idle from the keyboard, your mind is still going 90 mph. When there’s not enough time sometimes to sit down and write, I have 3 or 4 ideas for new postings all at once. Where to start?! So today I’ll finish up “our week of living in New York as though we really lived there.” The highlight of the trip turned out to be not only having real face-time with our Pittsburgh friend who took the Amtrak to join us a few days, but going to our first play on Broadway. And what a play it was!

Being from Utah where about 60% of the current population are members of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon), of course we were curious about all the hoopla surrounding Book Of Mormon. broadway book of mormonFrom the reaction of the people in the audience near me, there’s no wonder why they sell out so often–even after running more than two years. Book of Mormon is all the things you’ve no doubt heard already:  subversive, offensive, and, well–okay–at times inappropriate. Yes, it’s all those things, but much much more. I can sum it up in one word: Hilarious! I was laughing so hard throughout the whole two hours and 30 minutes that the rest of the world and its problems fell away. That said, the coarser aspects–the jokes about female circumcision, and sex with babies as “nature’s remedy for healing HIV,” gave me pause, and make Ugandans look pretty stupid, and I wonder how an African visitor to this country might react. In spite of my own rather bawdy sense of humor, several times my better nature stood aside to ask my baser self, “Why are you laughing?!” I’m happy to say that by the end of the play, I felt the Ugandans came out okay after all. By then they had vindicated themselves by revealing their intelligence in the  staging of a musical production for the benefit of visiting Church Elders. Not only did they understand the metaphoric content they took from Missionary Cunningham’s version (he was cornered into making up stories his own since he’d never actually read the Book of Mormon himself) but that they were perfectly able to take the best from those, and other influences from the west seeking to influence them, and improve themselves. The message I took from that–indeed there’s a line in the play that says it–it doesn’t matter where the stories came from. What does matter is the good that can come from that message. Lastly, I confess to something many of you who know me well may already have guessed, and I do this at the risk of giving some of the plot away. I love it when one of the insecure, overweight (read unacceptable as one of the “cool” people), nerds of the world turn out to be the real heroes. I confess that I (almost) fell in love with Arnold.

Other highlights, as briefly as I can make them, but you know me and my wordiness!  Eating ethnic: Indian food for dinner in Jackson Heights at the Jackson Cafe. Delicious pakoras, tandoor chicken served with rice and curried bindi (okra). Sorry, no picture. We had an Ethiopian lunch one day, which we’ve sorely missed since leaving Las Vegas. Wasn’t sure about going to Hells Kitchen in Midtown Manhattan as I remembered it from the 1970s as a not-so-great part of town. Today the area is, according to Wikipedia “gentrifying.” That seems like an apt description to me. The streets were clean, people were busy with few or no loiterers about. I didn’t feel nervous at all as I might have forty years ago. I noticed this Citi Bike system outside the restaurant (Meskerem’s), and couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Seemed like a great idea to us. And regardless of what that lady said on the news, it didn’t make the neighborhood look disgusting at all to me.

citibikes

Lunch was a shared summer salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers with a light vinaigrette dressing on a serving of injera, which is a flatbread made with teff flour (which is gluten-free) mixed with water and allowed to ferment for several days, then baked into crepe-like bread on a flat clay grill. The fermenting gives it its spongy texture and slightly sour taste. We ordered the vegetarian assortment  shown here, also shared, making it a very inexpensive and tasty meals for New York City (less than $20 for the two of us). It’s eaten with the hand, so we felt right at home, since we eat like that when we go to India. I sent my compliments to the chef as I’ve never tasted a better injera in any city I’ve ever eaten it.

ethiopean lunch

Finally, besides the upscale (window) shopping at Bergdorf-Goodman‘s (we were looking for Barney’s) and Tiffany, our museumless, more or less seat-o-the-pants city tour with our friend, we also ogled the store artwork in the Lego Store at Rockefeller Center. If you have even one creative bone in your body, you’ll not wonder that Legos have been around such a long time–since the l940’s–I believe. I’m not sure whether this is a snake or a dragon, but whatever it is, it’s a marvel in design. It winds itself in and out of the whole store ceiling. I can’t imagine how many hours it took to make, or how many people it took to do it.

lego snake

The Book of Mormon off Broadway will no doubt make it to a theater near you. I hope you’ll be able to see it some day, and if you’re close enough to travel on Amtrak in hours, as our friend was, I’d say it’s worth a weekend excursion. Once you see it, and you decide you either like it or hate it, I hope you won’t hold my unorthodox sense of humor against me. Really, I wouldn’t hurt a fly!  And while I might enjoy poking fun at some the weirder aspects of religious practice, I’d never ridicule the religion itself.  🙂

Intellectual Wallpaper: in defense of bookaholics

Hubby is always on the lookout for the perfect new television as replacement for the current one he expects will conk out within a year or so. We’ve already spent more than several-hundred on replacement parts in the nearly 10 years we’ve owned it, and you can now buy it new for around $400 (ten years ago it cost $4100). He would love in its place a 90-inch “intelligent design” which may or may not have been invented yet. One that will make it a center piece of the whole family room, for viewing, listening, and tapping into the Net for everything from movies to up-to-date stock prices (since we’ll certainly need to have sound investments to afford it.)

The problem I have with this new arrangement is that what to do with my book wall which has four shelves spanning over 12 feet? Some books I’ve read and collected over the years are next to impossible for me to part with. Over the 44 years we’ve been together I’ve collected quite a few as you can see. bookshelves

He says I should begin to get rid of them so he won’t have to worry about what to do with them if I kick the bucket first. I’ve tried over the years to defend my book habit by being mostly stubborn–after all it was better than tippling the proverbial bottle wasn’t it?–but I never had quite the words to defend myself until now. Then I found a quote in Facebook.

Of course anyone who truly loves books buys more of them than he or she can read in one fleeting lifetime. A good book resting unopened in its spot on a shelf, full of majestic potentiality, is the most comforting sort of intellectual wallpaper.

I’m sure I always knew it, intellectually anyway, but now I know it in my heart that I’m not the only one who feels that way. So I guess we’ll just have to find a way to arrange his giant TV screen, maybe a little more sensible size more in line with the size of the family room, somewhere in between the books. We’ll call the wall “intellectual wallpaper” connecting old and new technology.

clean as a whistle corn on the cob

I know summer’s right around the corner because I purchased my first ears of corn from the grocery this week, and know that in a couple more months it’ll be available at the farm markets. My favorite way to eat corn is to cream it the way generations of women in my family did it, and still do as far as I know, but Hubby and the rest of our little family here in Utah prefer it on the cob, cooked on the grill or steamed. [Incidentally, my son-in-law who grew up in Germany is appalled that anyone in his right mind would eat it at all (!) because Europeans all know that corn is pig food. To that I say oink, oink, oink. Simply leaves more for me!]

With near perfect timing, a friend recently sent us a link to a video demonstrating a way to prepare it without having the brush the silks out. It combines taking the shuck off and cooking in a couple of easy steps, so naturally Hubby and I could hardly to wait try it ourselves. I’m here to affirm it works beautifully! Comes out clean as a whistle with nary a pesky silk hanging on! All you need to do for perfection is to slather it with a little butter.

Now this may be all old news for you, but if so I won’t apologize. If you knew already, then why didn’t you tell me!?

Credits: video via YouTube, photo of butter/sugar corn licensed under creative commons (catchesthelight/flickr).

more on how Flat Stanley came to be

In the author’s own words, here’s how the Flat Stanley story came about:

“More than thirty years ago, I was saying goodnight to my now grown-up sons, J.C. and Tony (Flat Stanley is dedicated to them), and J.C., stalling for my chat time, asked me not to leave the bedroom. He was scared, he claimed, and when I asked him what he was afraid of he couldn’t think of anything. As I started out again, he had an inspiration. ‘I’m afraid my big bulletin board will fall on me,’ he said. I told him that that was ridiculous; the big board on the wall above his bed had been securely mounted by me, and even if it got loose it would do so so slowly that he wouldn’t even notice it, just go off to sleep, and by the time it rested fully upon him he’d be sound asleep and wouldn’t wake, so the board would just lie there all night. Then I thought of small joke and said: ‘Of course, when you wake up in the morning, you’ll probably be flat.’ Both boys thought that was a hoot and many evenings after that one, we’d make up stories about adventures you could have if you were flat. Best idea I ever had, and I didn’t even know I’d had it. Not for many months, until a friend in the kid-book business, who knew about the flat stories, suggested I make them into a book.”

Jeff Brown was born January 1, 1926 and was busily working on more ideas for Flat Stanley books when he died suddenly December 3, 2003.

The Flat Stanley Project was started in 1995 by Dale Hubert, a third grade schoolteacher in London, Ontario, Canada, to facilitate letter-writing by schoolchildren to each other as they document where Flat Stanley has gone with them. Students begin by reading the book and becoming acquainted with the story. Then they make paper “Flat Stanleys” (or pictures of the Stanley Lambchop character) and keep a journal for a few days, documenting the places and activities in which the character is involved. The Flat Stanley and the journal are mailed to other people who are asked to treat the figure as a visiting guest and add to his journal, then return them both after a period of time.

Flat Stanley first came to my attention when my granddaughter’s first grade class took part in the project this year. Then came the idea to send her own Flat Stanley to New York City to visit her Aunt, our daughter who lives in Queen. Flat Stanley lived with her for a few days and tagged along on several adventures throughout the city. Thus began Flat Stanley’s Adventures in New York City. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow to read a very educational version of a new Flat Stanley adventure. By the way, Jeff Brown went on to write several more Flat Stanley adventures, and the series continues with different authors and illustrators.

Now that you know the inspiration for this much-loved children’s book, think of the inspiration for similar stories you may have had in your own life. Do you have a story (idea) of your own?

flat stanley goes to new york city

Today I’m posting–with permission–a children’s book written by and illustrated by my younger daughter. It’s a new adventure about Flat Stanley. In case you’ve never heard of Flat Stanley, he’s a character created in a children’s book by Jeff Brown in 1964. The plot involves Stanley Lambchop and his younger brother Arthur who are given a big bulletin board by their Dad for displaying pictures and posters. He hangs it on the wall over Stanley’s bed.  During the night the board falls, flattening Stanley in his sleep, but Stanley survives and makes the best of his altered state. Soon he is entering locked rooms by sliding under the door, and playing with his younger brother by being used as a kite. Another special advantage is that Flat Stanley can now visit his friends inexpensively by being mailed in an envelope. He even helps catch some art museum thieves by posing as a painting on the wall. Eventually Arthur changes Stanley back to his normal shape with a bicycle pump. To facilitate easier reading in case the monitor you’re using is smaller, I’m duplicating the text inside brackets under each picture.

[Recently, Flat Stanley visited Queens and Manhattan, otherwise known as New York City! Stanley learned very quickly that many people in New York City do not own cars. Instead of driving, they take underground trains! They call their trains the “Subway.” Stanley was a little nervous about taking the Subway at first, but he decided that he liked the idea of getting on a train and riding along with other people. He watched as people read, talked, played video games, and listened to music on their way into the city.]

[Stanley exited the train at a stop for Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. Then, because he was so deep underground, he had to take a very steep escalator to the surface!]

[Luckily, this station had a helpful map to show Stanley where he had arrived and where he could take the subway from here.]

[Stanley made it to the street! Are you curious about where he went next? Ah, here. Now you can see where he intended to visit in New York City: The MOMA. Can you see it in this distance up ahead?]

[Can you guess what the MOMA is from the picture? And what do you think MOMA means? Here is a hint. Each letter stands for something: M.O.M.A.]

If you guessed that Stanley was visiting an art museum, you were correct! And so, if you guessed that the first letter of M.O.M.A stood for “Museum,” and the last letter stood for “Art” you were also correct! The MOMA is New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. People who study art describe it as “Modern” if the objects were made after 1860. (It’s 2012 now; can you figure out how many years ago 1860 was?) Stanley learned a lot about Art on his visit. As you can see, the MOMA has different kinds of Art all over, on the floors and on the walls.]

[Some of the pieces are famous paintings. This one is by a man named Vincent Van Gogh. Do you know what it is called? If you don’t what would you call if it you pained it?]

[Stanley was surprised these pictures by Andy Warhol are called “Art,” because he recognized the people in them, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.]

[Flat Stanley was also surprised that this painting by Jackson Pollack was Art, since it looked like something you kids could make at school.]

[But wait! Are these examples of Art too? Stanley thought these objects were all kind of funny. He laughed a little bit when he saw them. But then he started to wonder if he understood Art.]

[Now, these pictures by Rousseau, Picasso, and Chagall, and Kahlo seemed a bit more like what he thought he would see at an Art museum.]

[Stanley was confused and wanted to get some air.  He found that MOMA had a lovely garden full of sculptures.  They were cool–but they made him wonder more about what Art was. He sat down and thought a bit about what he’d seen.]

[Each piece of Art was something that reminded him of the things he saw everyday, but they were also a bit different from the things he saw everyday. They made him think more about what he was looking at. He didn’t always know how to describe how he felt or what he was thinking, but he liked that the Art made and feel and think.]

[After the museum, Stanley decided to see a few things nearby, including Radio City Music Hall. There are dance and music performances there. One day, Stanley hopes to see some of them.]

[Stanley’s friend Vimala asked if he would like to go with her to the library to return a book. Stanley said yes, because he loved to read. He was very excited to go back on the subway and see on the map where they arrived compared to where they had been. Can you see how far they traveled by comparing this map to the earlier one?]

[Elmer Holmes Bobst Library – New York University]

[Stanley really enjoyed seeing the library at New York University. So many floors! Stanley especially liked to imagine that one day he will go to college and study Math. Or Science. Or maybe Art? Perhaps Literature?]

[After the library, Stanley went to the nearby park, Washington Square Park. There he saw a pretty arch and decided one day he might go to college to study Architecture, a subject that makes us see and think about buildings as both a kind of Art and a product of Science. In fact, New York had a lot of neat buildings! It would be a great place to study buildings and Art and all kinds of things that interested him.]

[Stanley went back down into the Subway and caught a train towards Queens, where his friend Vim lived. When they transferred from one train line to another, they saw a band playing in the station! So they stopped to listen for a bit. What do you think their song sounded like? Do you know what these instruments are? Stanley did, but he is pretty sure you do too, so he told me not to tell you.]

[Stanley ended his day where he started it, at 75th Avenue in Queens. What a loved day he had, looking at Art, thinking about what Art is, and then seeing everything around him as something like and unlike Art. He saw many people as he traveled and enjoyed thinking about what their lives were like in this very interesting city. He cannot wait to return to New York City…there is so much more he’d like to do!]

Flat Stanley loved New York City!

For more information on Flat Stanley, check back with Wintersong on Monday.

all the world’s a stage . . .

I’ve said over and over again to whoever paid attention that the key to appreciating life lies in your own attitude. After hearing a line affirming that fact in the movie reviewed in my previous post, I can’t think of anything offhand that doesn’t depend on what we choose to bring to the experience. I thought about it as I was driving home yesterday from a meeting of my new writing club. One of the members, Polly, is a petite, silver-haired senior in her eighties. She’s one of those charismatic people I think of as born story tellers. Though she doesn’t call undue attention to herself in a crowd, as you get to know her you realize she’s not sleep walking through life, she’s always living an adventure. I always say to her after a long absence, what new adventures do you have to share with me, Polly, and she always has at least one. It may be how she decided to get out the step ladder and fix that malfunctioning security alarm system herself. After struggling with screwdrivers and socket wrenches and the sort, she soon felt frustrated enough to call the people who designed the system and ask them to walk her through it–what color wire goes here, etc.–so she could fix it herself rather than calling on her busy adult son. Then there were the trips she’s taken with her grandchildren–two so far, involving three adult grandchildren–and the beautiful stories of their serendipitous adventures together. I’ve no doubt traveling as adults with their grandmother–with an age-span of 60+ years–has surely given them a much larger picture of graceful aging than society does in general. In fact, I began to realize early on that Polly sees the world much differently than I. Being a former dancer and teacher with a flair for drama, Polly’s world comes choreographed where mine comes with stories.

I love the occasional glimpse into the world as others see it, and I get that opportunity–seeing Polly’s choreographed world–regularly at our monthly writer’s meeting.  Yesterday, when she shared two more adventures, I suggested she should be sharing with a wider audience than the four of us at the meeting, but she demurred suggesting a certain aversion to computers in general. So I begged, and she graciously agreed to be my guest blogger for today’s Wintersong. I hope my readers will be inspired through it to take a second look at ordinary people on an ordinary day. After all, wasn’t it Shakespeare who said All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. 

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When discussing a good way to get an idea for a story, one of our writing group members suggested that we go to a restaurant and sit close to others in order to listen to bits of conversation. When shopping at Costco the other day, I decided to have lunch. I forgot about sitting close to others and, as is my habit, sat as far away as possible from others. I could not hear any conversations–just the general cacophony of the crowd. In watching those around me, I began to be intrigued by an elderly couple who came into view.

When the gentleman started to sit down, his wife–with a sweeping gesture of her arm and index finger–pointed to another place, he raised himself and went to the spot she had designated. Right away we know she is “Mrs. Take Charge.” He then took something from his pocket–a Kleenex, a rag or a handkerchief, not sure which–and proceeded to clean his eating area with a rotating motion; first it was clockwise and then counterclockwise. She sat down across from him, but not for long. She popped up in jumping-jack fashion, turned away from him toward what I saw were the free napkins, and darted across the room. She returned with a wad of napkins. Standing in front of her plate, she began pressing the top of her meal with a handful. She pressed and released, pressed and released; it was similar to a plié and releve at a ballet barre. I think she was squeezing the grease from her meal while her husband continued to clean his area of the table. I watched their gestures–she, going down and up; he still going in a circular motion–as if I were watching a dance recital. That was just one table.

When glancing to the right there was another table, this one with a large family. Their gaggle of small children were like a pail of worms on fast forward. Under the bench and around the table, back and forth they’d go. Every once in awhile one would stop and cling to a parent. There was a constant and rapid circulation of little people. Here I am in this scene, watching Mrs. Take Charge and her obedient spouse, and the squirming children. Out of the blue comes a woman with big thighs and breasts laboriously pushing her heavy cart. She flopped down into a seat, exhausted from the effort of managing her cart and huge self. All I could think of was that out of this scene there was an idea  for a new dance! To think, one eight-inch all-beef hot dog on a roll topped with sauerkraut with a 16 ounce drink–my lunch–and all it had cost me was $1.50! The “extra” was watching what strikes me now as the makings of a dance program. And the show was all free!